The drug misoprostol, normally used to treat ulcers, was found to prevent excessive postpartum bleeding, a common cause of death of women in developing countries, according to a study conducted by researchers at RTI International, the University of Missouri, India's Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College, and the National Institutes of Health.
The study, published in the Oct. 8 issue of Lancet, found misoprostol reduced the likelihood of having postpartum hemorrhages by 50 percent. The research was conducted from 2002 to 2005 with more than 1,600 women in rural India.
"Our research clearly demonstrated that misoprostol is a safe and inexpensive way to prevent postpartum hemorrhages, an all too common cause of death for women in developing countries," said Hrishikesh Chakroborty, Dr.PH, an RTI researcher and co-author of the study. "This drug could potentially save thousands of lives."
Though other more expensive drugs are used to prevent excessive bleeding in the developed world, misoprostol costs as little as 14 cents per pill and does not require refrigeration or special training to administer. The drug stops bleeding in the uterus by causing it to contract.
In developed countries, where the majority of births occur in hospitals and emergency care is available, deaths from postpartum hemorrhage are rare. However, the condition can be life threatening in countries where most births occur at home and emergency care is not always available.
According to the authors, postpartum hemorrhage accounts for about 30 percent of the more than 500,000 maternal deaths occurring worldwide during childbirth each year. The estimated maternal death rate in India is 407 women for every 100,000 births, whereas in the United States the number is about 10 per 100,000, the study said.
RTI served as the data coordinating center for the study. The research was funded by the Global Network for Women's and Children's Health Research, a public-private partnership between the National Institute of Heath's National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.